Building your dream home from the ground up can be a rewarding experience, providing you with the opportunity to incorporate the special touches that will enhance your quality of life.
However, few things are worse than discovering too late that your home's foundation or footprint extends just a few feet beyond the property line, inadvertently encroaching on your neighbor's land.
Even if you and your neighbor enjoy a friendly relationship, he or she isn't likely to be keen on the idea of giving away a portion of his or her property for free, and this discrepancy between boundary lines and physical structures can lead to problems whenever you (or your neighbor) seek to sell.
Read on to learn more about your legal and financial options whenever your new home build has inadvertently encroached on your neighbor's property.
Option #1: Offer to Pay
If you and your neighbor have previously enjoyed a friendly relationship, and if he or she hasn't raised any initial objection to your construction of a new home on the property, your best first step may be to simply approach your neighbor, apologize for the intrusion, and offer to pay fair market value for the land at issue.
Your neighbor may be happy for the extra cash and willing to execute a deed that clarifies the property boundaries to avoid any future legal actions.
Because a determined neighbor who has the law on his or her side can actually petition to have your house moved or even razed and rebuilt on the proper side of the property line, it's important not to go too cheap on your initial purchase offer.
Option #2: Bring a Quiet Title Action
Your second option, should purchasing the property outright not work, will be to bring a quiet title action in the property. This lawsuit seeks to resolve the differences between the written parcel description and the actual physical characteristics of your and your neighbor's property in a way that's satisfying to you both.
In many cases, a judge may order the title to the property "quieted" in your name in lieu of removing (or moving) your home. The court will later determine the amount of monetary damages to which your neighbor is entitled because of your unlawful (albeit inadvertent) taking of his or her property.
In other cases, especially if your neighbor repeatedly raised objections to your placement of the home's foundation near the property line, the judge may grant a quiet title to your neighbor and require you to modify your home accordingly.
Not an Option: Ignoring the Issue
While it can be tempting to take the ostrich approach to this type of problem, especially if you aren't sure your neighbor even notices that your house has encroached onto his or her property lines, doing so can lead to future real estate troubles.
You may find it difficult to sell a home that isn't entirely contained within the property boundaries being transferred; even in a seller-friendly market, buyers may balk when it comes to purchasing (or inheriting) real estate headaches. Worse, you could find yourself on the receiving end of a civil lawsuit when your neighbor attempts to sell and finds his or her property slightly smaller than before.
Missing out on a high-dollar sale because of your actions can lead to the imposition of civil damages, and you may find yourself paying an extraordinarily high per-acre price for the land you've built upon.
Instead, if you're not sure of your options, you'll want to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. An attorney with experience in California real estate law can help you outline your options, the potential cost of each, and what you can expect from the process.